ORLANDO, Fla. – Former President Donald Trump attacked a litany of “establishment” Republicans in his Sunday keynote address at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), even as some in the GOP continue to deny that there is a civil war within the party.
“Now more than ever is the time for tough, strong and energetic Republican leaders who have spines of steel,” Trump said in his first public address since leaving office. “We cannot have leaders who show more passion for condemning their fellow Americans than they have ever shown for standing up to Democrats, the media and the radicals who want to turn America into a socialist country.”
Trump’s comments came as many in the GOP are denying that there is a civil war in the party between the pro-Trump faction and the side of the party that wants to move on from his presidency.
“The civil war is canceled. The Republican civil war is canceled,” Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., said in an interview with Fox News at CPAC. Scott is the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC). “We’re gonna focus on the issues. If you look all across the country what people are talking about is they’re talking about where are we going. They’re not talking about where we’ve been.”
Added Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., in an interview with Fox News: “Those who are – seem fairly invested in this whole concept of a Republican civil war – which I think is a D.C. thing. You can come here to see there isn’t a civil war. Our voters have no interest in going back.”
Trump made similar comments during his Sunday speech – essentially saying that there is not a GOP civil war because the pro-Trump wing of the party has already won it.
“The Republican party is united,” Trump said. “The only division is between a handful of Washington, D.C., establishment political hacks and everybody else all over the country.”
The crowd at CPAC is not necessarily representative of the Republican Party at large – it billed itself as a pro-Trump gathering ahead of time. But the rank-and-file supporters and activists on the ground were highly supportive of the former president, with a significant proportion wearing Trump gear of just about every form – from masks to shirts to yarmulkes.
There was also a massive gold statue of Trump on display.
Trump Sunday also turned his fire directly toward “establishment” Republicans, saying that they should be focusing on opposing Democrats, who now control the House, Senate and White House.
“Instead of attacking me and more importantly the voters of our movement, top establishment Republicans in Washington should be spending their energy in opposing Biden, Pelosi, Schumer and the Democrats,” Trump said.
Trump accused the members of Congress who voted to impeach him or convict him of the impeachment charge of inciting an insurrection of being “grandstanders.” The CPAC crowd booed as he named those members.
Trump spent the most time on Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., who he said is a “warmonger” who “loves seeing our troops fighting.”
“The good news is in her state she’s been censured and in her state her poll numbers have dropped faster than any human being I’ve ever seen,” Trump said. “So hopefully they’ll get rid of her with the next election.”
The former president in a statement earlier this month said he would be involved in running primary campaigns against Republicans, as he lambasted Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. He doubled down on that Sunday.
“That’s why I am announcing that I will be actively working to elect strong, smart and tough Republican leaders,” Trump said. “We want Republican leaders who are loyal to the voters and who will vote proudly for the vision that I’ve laid out today.”
Donald Trump Jr. more explicitly addressed what the Trump efforts to get involved in GOP politics in 2022 will be in a Friday interview with Fox News at CPAC. He said there are “plenty” of Republican incumbent senators that he would be willing to support primary challenges against and that the former president will be involved in choosing which races to focus on.
“I don’t think we have to blindly support, you know, establishment candidates that don’t do anything,’ Trump Jr. said. “I think that’s a mistake and I think we’ve seen too much of that from the establishment, where they blindly throw cash, time, money and energy to help failing candidates who have no charisma, no personality, no political chops, get over the line simply because they’ve been there a few years.”
That appeared to be an attack on Scott, who has repeatedly said that the NRSC will support all GOP incumbents.
Trump also touted his success in endorsing House and Senate candidates, before attacking McConnell explicitly. McConnell since Jan. 6 has publicly condemned Trump and said he was responsible for the attack on the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob.
“Jan. 6 was a shameful day. A mob bloodied law enforcement and besieged the first branch of government. American citizens tried to use terrorism to stop a democratic proceeding they disliked,” McConnell wrote in the Wall Street Journal. “There is no question former President Trump bears moral responsibility. His supporters stormed the Capitol because of the unhinged falsehoods he shouted into the world’s largest megaphone.”
“My endorsement of Mitch McConnell, at his request … brought him from one point down to 20 points up” in Kentucky, Trump said.
Trump also took credit for Republicans’ success in House races, other Senate races and in state legislatures.
During his grievance-filled speech, Trump also railed against President Biden on immigration and school re-openings, hinted that he might run for president in 2024, and repeated several times false claims that he won the 2020 presidential election.
Trump also reprised the viral moment from a previous CPAC appearance when he hugged an American flag that was on the stage. On Sunday, Trump hugged an American flag when he walked out to deliver his address.
Fox Nation is a sponsor of CPAC.